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Planning to fly for the holidays? 6 things to know before you book

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Whether it’s to see family or just to get away for a little vacation, holiday travel for many Americans means hopping a flight in November, December, or January. And traditionally, right around now is when many people start looking for deals.

This year? It’s going to take a while for the public to feel comfortable boarding a plane in a pandemic, much less booking a flight for an uncertain future.

Still, with planes having been flying at only about 30% of capacity, travelers have room and reason to consider taking to the skies this holiday season, normally the most congested time of year. They just have to be ready to navigate a changed industry.

Most visibly, of course, U.S. airlines have effectively implemented COVID-19 protocols: maintaining social distance, requiring facial coverings, disinfecting surfaces, and guarding air quality. Prices for the holidays should be attractive, given that airlines need to boost demand. Even with an increase in volume, the system has space to absorb more passengers and still perform well.

For those willing to buy a ticket, the flying future is shifting in more dramatic ways, too—for this season and beyond.

First, the industry faces challenges over the size of its operations during this unprecedented and extended period of low demand for air travel. Starting Oct. 1, several airlines will be laying off or furloughing thousands of pilots, cabin attendants, and ground personnel. 

This ultimately translates to fewer airplanes and routes being available. In its attempt to reduce costs and operating expenses to match diminished demand, the industry will have less choice and availability for travelers. On the plus side, a smaller system has historically always performed more punctually and with fewer baggage-handling mishaps.  

Booking flights now, before the reductions take effect, could bring headaches. While many airlines are waiving change fees, it won’t matter if your flight destination is no longer available at any time. On the other hand, waiting to book a flight may not cost more this year, but there is a real possibility that you may not reach your destination without added travel segments and travel time. 

Best practices for holiday air-travel booking

My advice: Consider the prospects of fewer flights, altered schedules, and dropped destinations when thinking about holiday travel. Here are a few more best practices for air travel—many of which can ease travel stress in these uncertain times: 

  • Don’t act out of fear; act from a sense of personal responsibility for yourself and those around you. Socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, and use sanitizing solutions. 
  • Airlines do not guarantee their schedules, and you should keep this in mind when planning your trip. Recheck the departure and arrival times of your flights a few days before your trip; schedules sometimes change.
  • Using a travel agent can help explore the changing options available. A small fee upfront is often worth it when plans go wrong. Having an experienced travel agent on your side can help de-stress the situation and save the day.
  • When selecting a flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, because of ripple effects throughout the day. If you book the last flight of the day, you could get stuck overnight. Allow plenty of time to make connecting flights. Leave extra time between connections if possible, just in case flights are delayed and flight schedules get changed.
  • If you have a choice between two connections and the fares and service are equivalent, choose the one with the less-congested connecting airport. This reduces the risk of misconnecting. Also consider potential adverse seasonal weather when choosing a connecting city.
  • It is wise to pay for airfare by credit card. It provides certain protections under federal credit regulations. When a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company within seven business days.

Farther down the line, after the pandemic, it’s distinctly possible that some airlines could go under. That slashed demand has hovered around 30% of capacity for months now. Airlines are in serious financial straits. 

At the same time, it’s not clear how much more airline industry consolidation, bankruptcy, or company closures this country can stand or the flying public will tolerate. 

About three years passed before the industry reached full flight function after 9/11, and it’s likely to take longer now, given this prolonged crisis and profound patterns in demand. Our collective caution, after all, is for good reason: the public’s greater interest and safety.

We should brace for the consequences.

Dean Headley, coauthor of the Airline Quality Rating, is associate professor emeritus in the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.

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China’s top leaders meet this week to plan for the next five years. Here’s what to expect

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China’s top leadership — led by Xi Jinping — will gather in Beijing to discuss the country’s growth and development strategy for the next five years.

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Former Facebook employee’s new book exposes Big Tech’s dirty secrets

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Shortly after Mark Luckie left his job as a manager at Facebook in 2018, he revealed in a blog post an internal memo he sent to colleagues before he left. The topic? How Facebook fails its Black employees. Now, nearly two years later, he’s written a lightly fictionalized version of how Big Tech companies operate and the burden they put on some of their employees.

The novel, Valley Girls, tells the story through the lens of four main characters working in the communications department of tech firm, Elemynt, which Luckie said has elements of companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook. The story starts with optimism and gets progressively worse as the characters—all women—are put in increasingly compromising positions at work. Luckie said he wrote the book as fiction partly to protect his sources, many of whom had signed nondisclosure agreements with their employers.

“This is very much a part of tech people don’t see or hear about,” Luckie said in an interview. “When scandals arrive, they think of CEOs and executives. They rarely think about the people crafting the message around it.”

Luckie has worked for companies including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, in various roles that aid with influencer and media partnerships. During his time at the tech companies he said he watched young ambitious professionals, many of whom were women, join the communication teams only to face situations in which they might have to “hide” company information or “negotiate” their way out of it even if they ultimately disagreed with the company.

With two journalism degrees and professional experience at major media companies, Luckie wanted to write again following his exit from the tech industry. He still has lingering worries about how Big Tech companies operate and the very real-world consequences, like live-streamed shootings on their services and hate groups using their tools for coordinated attacks.

Luckie recognized his privilege as a man who now had the freedom to stand up for others, and that’s ultimately what led him to write his new book. “The thing I kept thinking about is if I have to endure a little trauma to relieve others of theirs then I’m all for it,” he said.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Fortune: How many of the stories in this book are true?

Luckie: Everything in this book is either a mashup or direct reference to something that has happened in real life in tech companies, though not one in particular. Readers who are very familiar with tech are going to recognize where these references come from.

I talked to about 40 women. Some were small conversations, some were large. But it was to understand this world from a female perspective, everything from sexual harassment to what it’s like to have feminine products in the bathroom. The biggest question I asked them is, how accurate is this as a representation of what you go through?

The name you chose for the book has already received backlash. Why did you choose Valley Girls as the title?

“Valley Girls” is a reference to the valley girls of the ’80s who were these supposedly dumb, ditzy blondes who hung at the mall. Even before I wrote a word of the book, I was thinking about how the term references how women in tech are treated as not as intelligent as men.

Having a book about women that references “girls” in the title would be controversial, but it encapsulates the sense of the book, which is the challenges they face. I had to prepare myself mentally for the kind of blowback it would receive. But what I came to realize is the title is the least controversial part of the book.

Why did you choose to focus on the experience of women?

What’s most important is this book isn’t exclusively about women’s experiences. This is the lens through which the book is presented. It’s more about how different types of women and men and people from various races and sexual orientations and abilities intersect and the friction that that causes.

The reason why I wrote the memo [upon my departure from Facebook] is because every week people reached out saying, “I had this problem with managers and the work I do.” Most of those conversations were with women. So I incorporated those experiences in this. I know this book would’ve had another dimension if it was a book about women by a woman. But I hope this is a springboard for people of all genders to tell their stories.

What did you learn while writing this book?

The biggest lesson I learned is that I was not alone in the experiences I went through, and that there are many shared stories across various demographics. It was also understanding just how bad tech companies are from the inside. When you put all this info together in 150,000 words, the ethics are quite questionable from the employee level to the CEO level.

I’ve been in a lot of rooms and have been privy to conversations about user suppression, interactions with government officials, hiding company secrets, manipulation of employees, and internal discussions. I’ve kept secrets even from family and friends about what I witnessed. And I decided I’m more obligated to making society less dysfunctional than propping up tech companies.

What might people be most surprised to hear?

People will be surprised to hear a lot. The many amenities that tech employees are afforded from childcare to spa treatments to in-flight manicures. The vending machines with free tech—keyboards, mice, headphones, things that cost hundreds of dollars are there for the taking.

As the book goes on those amenities are used to get people to work as much as possible and quell employee protest. Because if a company is giving you everything you need, if there’s a wine bar around the corner and an arcade, how bad could it really be? But there’s everything from discussions about user verification to the effects of the exploitation of celebrity culture to sexual harassment and assault.

What do you hope this book does for people who read it?

This is about sharing the torch of knowledge, putting it into the hands of people, and letting them do what they want, whether it’s to stay on the platform or not. For government and civil organizations, it’s a guide to help them hold tech companies accountable. It’s a guide for reporters and journalists to better understand the inner workings of the companies.

This is going to be useful for people who are not familiar with tech to understand what’s going on inside these companies. That’s who I really wrote it for—the average individual.

What is the fix for these problems you explore at Big Tech companies?

The fix is when tech companies’ bottom line is affected by regulation or users leaving the platform. That’s when the change is really going to happen. Right now, they have no incentive to change.

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Dow futures fall 150 points after U.S. coronavirus cases surge to record

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The Dow and the S&P 500 are coming off their first losing week in four as talks over the next coronavirus stimulus package dragged on.

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